Especially as they compete for resources with different species of squirrel monkey as well as other primates, squirrel monkeys are continually on the move to seek food. Consequently, they do not stay in one place for very long, but rather inhabit a constantly ranging area where they seek shelter in trees, leaves and vegetation.
There are now five types of squirrel monkey, where before only two were known to exist. They belong to the family Cebidae and the genus Saimiri, all of them found in either Central or South America. Squirrel monkeys differ slightly in appearance based on species, but all are small -- around 10 inches tall, though they can get as large as 19 inches -- with males weighing slightly more than females. They have brownish-golden fur with white masks around the face and dark eyes.
Squirrel monkeys are localized in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. They inhabit lowland rainforests, where they tend to stick to the lower and middle portions of the canopy, where there is good leaf cover and they are protected from predators both from the air and the ground. Because squirrel monkeys eat insects rather than leaves, they need to constantly move to where sources of food are fresh. This keeps their habitats fluid rather than constant. Highly adaptable, they are found near marshlands and swamps, their preferred moist environments, as well as savannahs.
Squirrel monkeys predominantly use the jungle vegetation that surrounds them for shelter. They live in both rainforests and coastal forests, and while they are usually found in the middle canopy, they will move both higher up and down to the ground in search of food. They sleep at night above the canopy to protect themselves from forest-dwelling predators, waking with daybreak to begin feeding in the trees in which they slept. During the day they stay within the canopy to protect themselves from predators such as eagles above and snakes below.
Squirrel monkeys are constantly on the move. Unlike other primate species, which remain in one place while they placidly munch on leaves, flowers, fruits or other vegetation, squirrel monkeys are adapted to a high-protein insect diet, which means continuous foraging. While caterpillars and grasshoppers are favorite foods, they will eat a wide range of items, including nectar, flowers, buds, seeds, leaves, gum and small animals. They prefer to forage by searching through leaves and vegetation rather than chasing prey. Because their dietary needs require a wide foraging range, they need to dwell in large forests.
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Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.